P-38 "John Wayne" Military Can-opener

Commonly called a "John Wayne" by Marines and sailors, this small stamped-steel device was used to open C-ration cans.

The device consists of a rectangular piece of steel, about 1" long and 3/8" wide, with a tiny hook cut out of it, connected by a tiny hinge to a nearly triangular piece, with a sharpened end. It folds away neatly when not in use, and has a hole in one end for attaching it to a key-chain or dog-tag chain. (If you do put it on your key-chain, don't be surprised if it tears up your pockets and pokes you on the leg occasionally)

You can see a drawing of one here:

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It works by attaching the rectangular end's hook to the can lid, such that the triangular piece pierces the top of the lid. By working it back and forth, you can traverse the entire lid of one of those cans in about 38 cuts. (Today's cans take longer).

Invented in 1942, and carried by US Armed Forces during World War II, it was an indispensable tool, often carried on the dog-tag chain, and used for much more than just opening cans. It was used for prying, cleaning, and on occasion, even rifle maintenance tasks.

Since the introduction of the MREs, (Meals, Ready to Eat), which do not contain cans, these devices are no longer issued by the military. However, it is possible to find them for about $1 (US) in some military surplus stores. If you should manage to find one, hold on to it, as these are getting harder to come by.

Funky49 says the P-38 was called a John Wayne because he demoed the P-38 in WWII training films. Because soldiers couldn't remember to ask for a p-38, they instead asked for a "John Wayne". Thanks, Funky49.

  • http://www.dtic.mil/soldiers/august94/p45.html
  • Personal experience in the USMC